Remembering Bill Buckley

Bill Buckley — a pioneering, award-winning filmmaker with a lifelong commitment to social justice and activism — died Friday. The longtime Westporter was 89.

Buckley’s “day job” was making legal videos for a company he owned, B&B Productions. But he was best known for his more than half century of collaboration with fellow Westporter Tracy Sugarman. Their civil rights documentaries are regarded as classics — and national treasures.

Bill Buckley

Bill Buckley, in a typical pose.

In 1969, the duo — with their wives, June Sugarman and Ellie Buckley — formed Rediscovery. The mission was to honor the contributions of black men and women to American society, in areas like medicine, science, politics and the arts.

It was an “integrated” company. The films they produced with African American artists were groundbreaking, and staples of public television for many years.

A charter member of the Director’s Guild of America, Buckley helped create campaign films for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. He also worked with Harry Truman on the award-winning television series “Years of Decision.”

I wish had more details of Buckley’s remarkable life. He was a humble man who has not left an internet trail worthy of his work. Suffice it to say that — with Sugarman — his work has affected countless Americans, and motivated many to work for human rights of all kinds.

Buckley’s wife Judy Hamer and family will receive visitors at their home — 2325 Meadow Ridge in Redding — today and tomorrow (Sunday and Monday, January 22 and 23), from 2 to 5 p.m.

A memorial service — filled with jazz music — will be planned in the future.

(To see a sample from Buckley’s video “The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer: Never Turn Back,” click here.)

16 responses to “Remembering Bill Buckley

  1. I remember in the 6th Grade at Saugatuck Elementary School (1959-1960) and sitting in the auditorium viewing one of their civil rights films of what was going on in the South regarding voter registration. It left an indelible impression on me which only softened when I lived in New Orleans (1971-1974). Living in the South did not soften my views on racism, but was wonderful to experience American life thru a different set of glasses.

  2. Did some work for Bill when he lived by Christie’s. Good guy.

  3. Laurie Sugarman-Whittier

    I am so sad to hear that Bill has left us–we were planning to visit soon as we knew he was not well. I have known Bill since he and Ellie started working on Rediscovery with my parents, and he was a wonderful, kind and committed man who will be missed. Strange that he died 4 years to the day that my father did. Hopefully they are somewhere together looking down, trying to figure out a way to help with what is going on here and now. My condolences and love to Judy, his kids and grandkids.

    • Pam Buckley-Ebersold

      Laurie,
      Thank you for your kind words. Although I miss my dad already, I am grateful for his peaceful passing. My father missed your father terribly and spoke of how he hoped to be reunited with him somehow in the future. I will be looking for signs of them being together. Meanwhile, I know that both of their spirits live on in all of us who were touched by the important work they did.
      Pam

  4. I was privileged to know Bill Buckley for many years. He was an unpretentious, thoughtful, passionate, caring and talented man
    and a life-long champion of civil rights. I will miss our occasional lunches and chance encounters which taught me much about humanism, not to mention jazz, another of his passions.

  5. Tracy and June AND Bill and Ellie worked hard and for the rest of their lives to support the Civil Rights movement that started in the 60s and to promote voting rights for ALL citizens of this country!! One man or woman/one vote!! THAT IS THE BOTTOM LINE!!!
    It is a shame that they are gone but their work lives on. It can be a part of the arsenal of right and reason against the insanity of the current bottom line of GREED AND BIG BUSINESS!!
    It is time to bring everything we have to the children again to help them to decide what kind of world they want to live in. The world is NOT about business, it is about life as witnessed through humanity, nature, and the ultimate expression of positive creativity rather than destruction and negative domination.
    Bill and Tracy knew that and practiced it every day of their lives. Look at what they have left us to help us through these very bad times!!

  6. A close friend during the 60’s, team and soulmates to our family’s sustained efforts for peace, freedom and human rights….Bill and Ellie were familiar figures along with Tracy Sugarman in our home. Bill’s important work and passion for The Cause were tireless. He had great respect for my mother Ottilie…and she respected him.
    Over time I grew to know and enjoy his knowledge, support and lifetime love of jazz…and good music.
    People like Bill Buckley and Tracy simply don’t come along too often in our lives.
    I find it wonderful, and Not coincidental- that he passed on the same day as his close friend Tracy. Im also sure that on Friday,my mother freaked out at the scary events going on here now….50 years later in 2017.
    Our since condolences to Bill’s family and children.
    Rest in peace Bill.. When you see Tracy…please say hi.

  7. Linda Whitney at Staples

    All of our love goes to Bill (who I know hears us) and mostly now to Judy and Bill and Ellie’s children who must miss him together for awhile now.

  8. So sorry to read about Bill. I was their babysitter and good friend for so many years.
    Our prayers are with Bill and the family.
    Carol Jankoski Barrett.

  9. Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

    I shed tears when I read the entry and am shedding more as I read the comments. We need men and women of their caliber to rise up again and speak out. I for one can no longer remain silent in an attempt to be politically correct. As a 23 year old in 1963 I traveled south by car with a group of friends from Hartford. We refused to use bathrooms that said Whites only and eat where there were signs that indicated only whites were welcome. I have often thought what a pitiful attempt we made, but it was an attempt.. I am mortified that we as a country seem to be slipping so far backward. The pictures and posts from “The Day After” give me encouragement. Thank you for the reporting Dan. It has and will continue to make a difference.

  10. Bill Buckley was a beautiful man. He died on the fourth anniversary of Tracy Sugarman’s death. We remember these two filmmakers and truth-tellers together. A sad and beautiful Westport coincidence. — Doug Davidoff

  11. Bill Buckley was an extraordinary man: brilliantly talented, loving and compassionate. He and Tracy shared a long, close, deep partnership and friendship, which was sustenance to them both. How ironic and fitting that they left this world, to which they gave so much, on the same day. In loving memory of two amazing men, Gloria Sugarman

  12. Gloria Sugarman

    Great Column, Dan, as usual. Keep up your wonderful and significant work. Gloria Sugarman

  13. Bill Buckley’s memorial jazz service is set for Saturday, February 11, 2 p.m., Meadow Ridge auditorium, 100 Redding Road, Redding CT 06896. All are welcome!

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